Lessons from History

Take a look at historical global phenomena and disasters to see what lessons can be taken forward to help better prepare the world to tackle global challenges

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • Planned delivery: Online with in-person activities
  • Two-term module, worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit, or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

In Lessons From History you will spend time exploring different historical disasters. These include technical, environmental, health and social disasters.

For each disaster, you will work through a cycle of activities that will develop a range of different skills.

Beginning with the whole class together, we will consider what it means to understand a historical event. How much do you need to know? How many perspectives do you need to consider? Is it ok to not know things about an event? We will then consider each new event together, identifying important aspects to guide your independent research.

Working in teams, you will research what happened and develop your own ‘knowledge base’ that documents the facts, controversies and mysteries about each event, whilst also considering what types of information and sources are available.

You will write your own question and answer in your team for each disaster and you will receive really detailed feedback about your writing – specifically aiming to develop your persuasion and argumentation skills.

In class, there will be many opportunities to develop your negotiation and communication skills – both within your teams and between teams. Some of the disasters that we study are selected by the lecturer, but you will also have the opportunity to pick different disasters in your teams and to vote on one disaster to study as the final cycle of the module.

This module will be delivered with a mixture of on campus sessions and online drop in and review sessions. This will allow us to spend time together and enjoy working in person, but will also give us some flexibility to join sessions remotely as needed. We will therefore be developing specific skills to support both in person and online working. All sessions will be fully interactive and will include individual and team work and lots of interaction with the lecturer. We will make full use of our virtual classroom throughout, which will be our main point of contact and collaboration. See the Change Makers handbook for more information about our virtual classroom on Basecamp.

Elizabeth Hauke explains the Lessons from History module which involves looking at historical global phenomena and disasters to see what lessons can be taken forward to help better prepare the world to tackle global challenges

Lessons from History

Take a look at historical global phenomena and disasters to see what lessons can be taken forward to help better prepare the world to tackle global challenges.

Published on May 9, 2023

Listen to Dr Elizabeth Hauke talking about the Lessons from History module

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module you will be better able to:

  • develop a systematic knowledge and critical understanding of historical events
  • synthesise a set of key learning points from historical events and their legacy
  • apply these to current approaches to managing global challenges, suggesting areas where improvements could be made
  • identify areas for further self-directed study and develop considered insights using inputs from a range of sources and disciplines to construct a critical review of our attempts to manage the world in which we live
  • engage with the ethical, social, economic and political aspects of historical events
  • plan, monitor and evaluate your own learning, and develop methods of accountability within your teams


Indicative core content

This module examines of a number of key historical events that can inform our thinking about risk and disaster management, and reflect the complexity of our interactions with the world. You will develop your own understanding of these events, before considering the event from a specific perspective. A range of events will be considered (some set events and some nominated by students) which might include:
Nuclear sign

  • Chernobyl (nuclear safety)
  • Aral Sea Regression (ecosystem destruction)
  • Challenger Disaster (technological and political disaster)
  • South East Asia Tsunami (large scale, multinational natural disaster)
  • Haiti Earthquake (natural disaster with problematic disaster response)
  • Great Chinese Famine (food security)
  • Sudan Conflict (war and fragile states)
  • Eyjafjallajökull Eruption (risk management)
  • L.A. Riots (civil unrest)
  • B.S.E. Crisis


What happens in this module?

By the end of the module, every student will have explored thinking and writing about history in new ways and we work together as a class to help everyone write their own individual essay. We will look at how each skill we have developed in the module can help you write your essay – and there will be lots of writing support and time available in class. You will have lots of opportunities to discuss your essay ideas – and help other students think about their ideas, before following a writing formula to help you write something very individual and personal to you.

During this module you will learn: 

  • about the nature of history - is there such a thing as a single history of an event, how do we consider and acknowledge different perspectives?
  • how to conduct your own research and find your own historical sources
  • how to evaluate different types of historical source and use them to build your own understanding of a historical event
  • how to ask insightful questions and write persuasive answers
  • how to work effectively in teams (with lots of support and help from your teacher)

During this module you will do: 

  • your own research into historical events - we will think about what questions we need to answer to understand a historical event, and then you will be free to research in your teams
  • documentation of your research - how can you communicate complex histories and acknowledge your sources effectively
  • bibliography building - as a class we will develop the most outstanding resource by annotating a collaborative bibliography
  • lots of short pieces of writing in teams - learning to succinctly construct a compelling argument - you will receive lots of detailed feedback to help you improve continuously
  • a longer individual piece of writing that is planned and written in class time with lots of activities to help you write the best essay of your life
  • the best team work you've ever done - we pay a lot of attention to our team working. It is an intentional and active process to work with other people and we will ensure that you have the best team working experience and are able to overcome any challenges that might come your way

Learning and teaching approach

This module is designed to promote independent collaborative learning. You will work in the same teams throughout the module, and follow the same pattern of exercises and assignments for each case study. This means that you can quickly become experts in what is required of you and focus on responding to feedback and improving your performance in each task.

Teams are required to nominate different individuals for specific tasks during each learning cycle and over the module each one of you will have the opportunity to fulfil each role. This also allows you to be strategic and within your teams you can deploy the team members with the least other commitments/deadlines at that moment to the more complex roles. You will complete team analyses for each learning cycle and you will have the opportunity to raise team working concerns anonymously throughout the course. At several key points in the course, your team will be supported in having frank and honest discussions about its team functioning and contributions to help you effectively manage your team amongst yourselves.

Your teams will pick its own perspective or focus for examination on each case study, define your own bibliography, question and answer. These short pieces of writing give opportunities for very detailed feedback. All feedback on this course is shared with the whole class, so that as you review each other’s work, you can also see the feedback that was given. This massively increases the opportunities for learning and allows you to develop faster as individuals and teams.

For each of the six case studies examined, you will receive detailed individual and group feedback. In addition, you will be asked at the start of the module to consent to your team’s writing feedback being made available to the rest of the class on the wiki. Constructive, positive feedback is shared in this way (if there is any need for any other kind of feedback, this is provided privately). As you will receive this feedback six times during the module (and for every team), you will become very adept at responding to it and developing your own working practices as a result.

During one of the cycles, you will write your own case study materials for another team to study – you will have to select compulsory readings, and write a reading test. You will then have to mark the cycle, including providing detailed feedback on the writing of the other team. This leads to very detailed discussions of what different types of feedback mean, and to what the readings and different elements of the task are ‘for’.

You will have to assess your team working practice at least once during each of the six cycles, and there are two discussion based activities where you will be supported in really critically analysing your own and each others’ contributions to their team. These sessions are very challenging, but students report finding them incredibly valuable.

Finally, the capstone essay is highly supported with you being encouraged to write very personal essays in response to your question. A lot of the essay development is done together in class, and we complete an essayathon, where the lecturer clears their timetable for a defined period in order to be ‘on call’ for essay review. Each essay is guaranteed to be returned to you within one hour of you sending it with written feedback. If multiple essays are received at once, the lecturer sends the student their number on the waiting list and an expected time of return. This level of mutual commitment has led to students submitting multiple drafts and over 88% of students submitting at least one draft.

Mapping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this module

We recognise the interrelated nature of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and do not consider individual SDGs in isolation.  We adopt a systems-based approach that recognises their cross-cutting nature.

During this module, we will learn about historical disasters and near misses – considering what can be taken forward from these events to strengthen and secure our future. There are opportunities to explore most of the SDG areas within the disasters that we examine. For example:

  • Nuclear disaster (SDGs 3, 7, 9, 16 and 17)
  • Civil unrest (SDGs 1, 8, 9, 10 and 16)
  • Natural disaster (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14 and 15)
  • Conflict (SDGs 3, 9, 10 and 16)

We also study additional disasters that are voted on by the class, so you could pick something that explores a further set of SDG issues of your choice.


  • Practical: iRAT/tRAT - Reading Tests - quizzes and interactive activities (10%)
  • Coursework: tAPP - Writing Package - includes annotated bibliography, knowledge base, question and 250 word answer (45%)
  • Coursework: (Individual) - Essay integrating learning from several of the events covered to create a plan for future disaster management - 1,500-2,000 words (45%)

Key information

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 module. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌‌

My Journey

This module is really unique and designed in a very intricate way to help you develop the widest range of skills possible while learning about history. 

Read about how students in the 2020-21 class describe their own experiences of completing this module: visit the Lessons from History Student Journey page.

"This course is so far the best course I have ever attended at Imperial. It is an intellectually stimulating, fun and well structured course. I definitely recommend this course for anyone to broaden their horizons!"
"I found the content of this module was both varied enough to keep things interesting, but also linked which allowed us to build on previous knowledge. Feedback was provided very promptly and was always specific and thorough."
"It's lovely to have a module where the students are trusted to decide how best to structure the course. Working in teams this way has been a new and valuable experience. I love being able to research (and be marked on) what grabs my interest in a topic each cycle. Great course!"
"Loved this course, really was one of the highlights of my year."
"Really enjoyed this course. The lecturer made the course incredibly fun and really encourages students to research topics they find interesting."
"I have absolutely loved this course! The way the course is taught forces students to really engage with the content rather than just passively listening to a lecturer talk."